EXCLUSIVE: NRA Threatens Senators Who Support Campaign Finance Disclosure

— By Josh Israel on Jul 13, 2012 at 11:19 am

In a letter opposing the DISCLOSE Act of 2012 — a bill to allow citizens to know what corporations and wealthy donors are paying for the “independent expenditure” attack ads enabled by the 5-4 Citizens United ruling — the National Rifle Association (NRA) is warning Senators it will score the issue in its legislative scorecard for this Congress.

The NRA opposes the measure — arguing that its “provisions require organizations to turn membership and donor lists over to the government” and would unconstitutionally abridge the right of citizens “to speak and associate privately and anonymously.” The legislation would merely require groups that opt to run outside political ads to tell voters which donors funded those efforts. By setting up a separate bank account for independent political spending, a group like the NRA would be able to keep its membership list private and would need only disclose the large money donors paying for the group’s campaign ads. Far from being unconstitutional, this sort of disclosure was explicitly endorsed in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Citizens United majority opinion as “the less-restrictive alternative to more comprehensive speech regulations.”

In 2010, after supporters of the DISCLOSE Act agreed to exempt just the NRA from the bill, the group dropped its opposition. Now, without those special protections in the 2012 version, the group is taking no chances and is issuing a strong message to any Senator who might support political transparency. The NRA letter warns:

Due to the importance of the fundamental speech and associational rights of the National Rifle Association’s four million members, and considering the blatant attack on those rights that S. 3369 represents, we strongly oppose the DISCLOSE Act and will consider votes on this legislation in future candidate evaluations.

In other words, vulnerable Senators facing re-election may face secret-money attack ads should they back transparency for secret money attack ads.

Here is the text of the letter, sent yesterday by NRA lobbyist Chris W. Cox to Senators and obtained by ThinkProgress:

July 12, 2012
Dear Senator,

I am writing to express the National Rifle Association’s strong opposition to S. 3369, the DISCLOSE Act.

In its landmark Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal ban on certain political speech by nonprofit membership associations, including the National Rifle Association. In an effort to mischaracterize that ruling as something other than a vindication of the free speech and associational rights of millions of American citizens, some have repeatedly attempted to effectively reverse or significantly limit the scope of Citizens United. The latest attempt in this regard is S. 3369.

The NRA has been around since 1871. Our members contribute for the purpose of speaking during elections and participating in the political process. We will not risk our Association or our members being silenced at election time, as S. 3369 would do, while the national news media, politicians and others are allowed to attack us at will. The NRA is a bipartisan, single-issue organization made up of millions of individual members dedicated to the protection of the Second Amendment. The NRA stands absolutely obligated to our members to ensure maximum access to the First Amendment, in order to protect and preserve the freedom of the Second Amendment.

Among the many problems with the DISCLOSE Act are its unconstitutional disclosure provisions. These provisions require organizations to turn membership and donor lists over to the government. Under the First Amendment however, as recognized in a long line of Supreme Court cases, citizens have the right to speak and associate privately and anonymously.

Further, the DISCLOSE Act creates byzantine administrative burdens that will suffocate individual citizen associations. The Court in Citizens United was clear: “As additional rules are created for regulating political speech, any speech arguably within their reach is chilled.” This bill attacks nearly all of an association’s political speech by creating an arbitrary patchwork of unprecedented tracking and disclosure requirements. Nonprofit associations would have to track the political priorities of each of its individual members. The cost of complying with these requirements will be immense; for many associations they may prohibit speaking altogether. That violates both the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment.In addition, S. 3369 would give the FEC the power to require the NRA to reveal private, internal discussions with its millions of members about political communications. This unnecessary and burdensome requirement would leave it to government officials to make a determination about the type and volume of speech that would trigger potential criminal penalties, which is unacceptable.

Recent media accounts of retaliation against certain political donors reveal the true intent behind this legislation. It is not simply a “disclosure bill”, as its authors claim. Rather, it is a not-so-transparent attempt to rend Citizens United into a legal nullity, by chilling the very speech rights that were restored in that landmark decision.

Due to the importance of the fundamental speech and associational rights of the National Rifle Association’s four million members, and considering the blatant attack on those rights that S. 3369 represents, we strongly oppose the DISCLOSE Act and will consider votes on this legislation in future candidate evaluations.

Chris W. Cox

This material [article] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.  It  was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. The original article is posted here.

Do We Need the Disclose Act or a Constitutional Amendment?

Democrats in Congress have been desperately trying to bring at least some transparency to this new avalanche of corporate spending we’ve been experiencing in our elections. They’ve been trying to pass legislation such that if corporations, millionaires and billionaires want to spend billions to cover up Mitt Romney’s lies — then at least, we the voters, should know where that money is coming from. In 2010 — Democrats in the House of Representatives passed the DISCLOSE Act, which would have done just that. Unfortunately — the DISCLOSE Act laws were filibustered that year by the Republican minority in the Senate.

So, Democrats in the Senate are now trying it again. On Tuesday, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and eight other Senate Democrats proposed a new, watered-down DISCLOSE Act, hoping that the latest, more corporate-friendly legislation may attract some Republicans supporters. But is this really the strategy Progressives should be using to get corporate money out of our politics. Or do we need to be bolder and push for a Constitutional Amendment that once and for all says corporations are not people, and money is property – not speech?

Under the Reading Lamp — 1/22/2012

Does US Senate Commit Treason with NDAA Bill?

Jeanine Molloff, Op-Ed: “December 1st, 2011, the US Senate accomplished the unthinkable–with the nearly unanimous passage of the National Defense Authorization Bill of 2012–they committed treason. Written and planned in secret by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the newly minted NDAA contains three sections which collectively sanctions indefinite detention of alleged terrorists or ‘terrorist sympathizers’–anywhere in the world including the US– and designates the military the duty to arrest, imprison and interrogate without benefit of counsel,’ accused civilians here on Main Street.”

After ‘Citizens United’: The Attack of the Super PACs

John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, Op-Ed: “Citizens United’s easing of restrictions on corporate and individual spending, especially by organizations not under the control of candidates, has led to the proliferation of “Super PACs.” These shadowy groups do not have to abide by the $2,500 limit on donations to actual campaigns, and they can easily avoid rules for reporting sources of contributions. For instance, Super PACs have established nonprofit arms that are permitted to shield contributors’ identities as long as they spend no more than 50 percent of their money on electoral politics.”

Corporate Rule Is Not Inevitable

Sarah van Gelder, Op-Ed: “You may remember that there was a time when apartheid in South Africa seemed unstoppable. Sure, there were international boycotts of South African businesses, banks, and tourist attractions. There were heroic activists in South Africa, who were going to prison and even dying for freedom. But the conventional wisdom remained that these were principled gestures with little chance of upending the entrenched system of white rule. ‘Be patient,’ activists were told. ‘Don’t expect too much against powerful interests with a lot of money invested in the status quo.’”

A Credit Union to Bail out People, Not Big Banks

Judith Scherr, News Report: The Occupy Movement condemns the banks’ role in predatory lending and the foreclosure crisis, the high-interest student loans they say enriches the bankers and impoverishes college students, bank investments in private prisons and more. But protesting isn’t enough for Occupy San Francisco activist Brian McKeown. He says a bank should be a transparent institution whose mission is to help people. And so, with like-minded partners, McKeown is putting together a plan for the People’s Reserve Credit Union (PRCU).

Boehner Threatens to Hold Payroll Tax Holiday Hostage to Approval of Keystone XL

Zack Ford, Video Report: On Fox News Sunday this morning, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told Chris Wallace that “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the Keystone Pipeline is approved.” When Wallace pressed him whether Republican leadership would make the pipeline a condition for extending the payroll tax holiday, Boehner admitted, “We may,” adding (several times) that “All options are on the table.” Proponents of the pipeline have dwarfed opponents in lobbying spending, inflated the actual effect it will have on job creation, and spread various myths designed tocircumvent its environmental impact.

Bernie Sanders: We Must Stop This Corporate Takeover of American Democracy

Bernie Sanders, Op-Ed: “Two years ago, the United States supreme court betrayed our Constitution and those who fought to ensure that its protections are enjoyed equally by all persons regardless of religion, race or gender by engaging in an unabashed power-grab on behalf of corporate America. In its now infamous decision in the Citizens United case, five justices declared that corporations must be treated as if they are actual people under the Constitution when it comes to spending money to influence our elections, allowing them for the first time to draw on the corporate checkbook – in any amount and at any time – to run ads explicitly for or against specific candidates.”

How the Republicans on the FEC Are Making Citizens United Even Worse

Josh Israel, News Analysis: “Three Republican appointees to the Federal Election Commission may be as responsible as anyone for the lack of transparency of post-Citizens United political spending. Two years ago, when the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United ruling, one bright spot was that the majority explicitly endorsed the constitutionality and necessity of disclosure rules that inform voters who paid for the political ads they see. ‘Disclosure is the less-restrictive alternative to more comprehensive speech regulations,’ they affirmed.”

The Green Economy, Boon or Menace?

Emilio Godoy, News Report: In its study “Who Will Control the Green Economy?”, published Dec. 15, 2011, the ETC Group argues that the development of a green economy will primarily benefit large corporations, unless changes are made to the current models of production and consumption of goods and services and international governance. It reveals that large transnational corporations in the energy, pharmaceutical, food and chemical industries are already forming alliances to exploit biomass and grab control of natural resources like land and water.

Christopher Petrella | Death, Taxes, and Alcatraz

Christopher Petrella, Op-Ed: “Please allow me to introduce some figures that I believe will convincingly demonstrate the scope and depth of our predicament. Although the United States represents less than 5% of the world’s population, we harbor over 25% of those incarcerated. In fact, we’ve incarcerated more people in absolute terms than China, whose population is four times the larger. Despite these sobering figures, few thinkers, however—even those of avowedly ‘progressive’ persuasion— have sharply critiqued the well-worn diptych of ‘crime and punishment.’”

Bad Bankers, Bad Fraud Deals, And The President’s ‘Great Gatsby’ Problem

Richard (RJ) Eskow, Op-Ed: “Investigate the Banks!” Today a coalition of progressive groups handed in a petition with more than 360,000 signatures that demanded exactly that. It calls on the Obama administration to stop pushing a cushy fraud settlement for bankers, to pursue a fair deal for shafted homeowners, and to let criminal investigations against Wall Street crooks proceed. Yet White House officials are still aggressively pushing the very same cushy deal on foreclosure fraud that inspired the petition.

How Payday Lenders Make Billions By Fleecing Americans In Poverty

Tanya Somanader, News Report: “As a growing number of Americans slip out of the middle-class into economic insecurity, they are increasingly vulnerable to predatory lending schemes like the payday loan. Each year, about 12 million Americans incur long-term debt by taking out a short-term loan that’s intended to cover a borrowers’ expenses until they receive their next paycheck. Payday lending takes ‘unfair advantage of lower-income borrowers,’ with most taking out nine repeat loans per year with an interest rate as high as 400 percent.”

Robert Reich | Amend 2012

Robert Reich, Video Presentation: Thanks to the Supreme Court and Citizens United, the same big corporations and billionaires that destroyed our economy and caused millions of us to lose our jobs and homes, are spending obscene amounts to drown out our voices in elections and take over our government. But together, “We the People” can set things right. Stand with Robert Reich and join the movement for a constitutional amendment today.

Kucinich Announces Constitutional Amendment to Publicly Finance Federal Elections

Dennis Kucinich, Op-Ed: On the eve of the second anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United, which opened the floodgate of unlimited, shadowy corporate spending in public elections, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has introduced H. J. Res. 100, a constitutional amendment to rescue American democracy from corporate money’s corrupting influence.

Help Stop Karl Rove’s Super PAC Power Grab

Take action!Just in case corporations and the ultra-wealthy didn’t already have far too much power in our elections, leave it to Karl Rove.

Rove and his Super PAC American Crossroads want to tear down the thin wall that prevents Super PACs — which can accept unlimited, easily hidden contributions — from running ads coordinated directly with candidates and their campaigns — which have strict contribution limits.

The prohibition on coordination is one of the few remaining rules separating our so-called democratic elections from becoming a no-holds-barred, corporate cash free-for-all. So it’s no surprise that Rove has asked the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) if he can get around it, by running coordinated political advertisements, featuring candidates the PAC is supporting.

The FEC has already issued four draft opinions. It is supposed to issue a final ruling within days and is accepting public comments on Rove’s request.

Tell the FEC: Reject Karl Rove’s Super PAC power grab. Submit a comment now.

The deeply damaging Citizens United decision opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate donations and spending by Political Action Committees, so long as they were independent of the campaign.

But Rove’s FEC request flouts even that. In a truly “what the definition of ‘is’ is” moment, Rove literally states that what is coordinated, shouldn’t be considered coordinated:

“While these advertisements would be fully coordinated with incumbent Members of Congress facing re-election in 2012, they would presumably not qualify as ‘coordinated communications,’.”

And yet, three of the four draft responses posted by the FEC would allow Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC, to air these coordinated-yet-not-coordinated ads featuring, and approved by, political candidates.1

The limits that exist to prevent coordination between Super PACs, officially known as “independent-expenditure only committees,” and political candidates are already astonishingly weak — allowing discussion of strategy, and even for candidates to fundraise directly for a Super PAC.2

Now Rove wants to use these unlimited pots of Super PAC money to essentially fund candidate’s official advertising campaigns. That’s going way, way too far. And we need to tell the FEC to stop it.

Tell the FEC: Reject Karl Rove’s Super PAC power grab. Submit a comment now.

In some ways, this is like fighting over bread crusts when what you really want is a whole sandwich.

To truly heal our democracy we need to overturn the Citizens United decision, and reduce the ability of corporations and the ultra-wealthy to drown out the voices of everyday people in elections.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet — so our democracy is serious trouble, and right now, these paltry, insufficient limits are all we’ve got. We can’t let Karl Rove and the FEC take them away.

Tell the FEC: Reject Karl Rove’s Super PAC power grab. Submit a comment now.

Elijah Zarlin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets

1. “Four Ways The FEC Could Rule On Uncoordinated Coordination By American Crossroads,” Talking Points Memo, November 28, 2011
2. “Uncoordinated Coordination: Six Reasons Limits on Super PACs Are Barely Limits at All,” Talking Points Memo, November 21, 2011